Several neighbors’ faces appeared at various sooty windows (you could never wash them enough in a coal-mining company town), marked his passing, and shook their heads, one a young woman’s, but mostly old-looking.
Raising hard-scrubbed but coal-begrimed fingers, Ian waved as he went by the town’s chief pub , “The Redstone Cometh,” where several barflies, old mining chums of his father, called out.
“The pup will be back in a fortnight with tail betwixt his legs!” one good heart laughed, but without any trace of scorn, though he knew, as did everybody, that poor Ian had got it in his fool, religious head to start a “Bible College for Prayer and Fasting” in Swansea of all things! “Can you him now, with lily-white fingers and a pressed suit, preaching to young, buxom female students?” another cut in, rolling eyes. “He might marry and we’ll not see him again until the two come preaching up a storm, thinkin’ to convert us! Lordie, just imagine that, mate!”
The door banged open between the laughing pair, a mine foreman lurched out, took a hearty spit, and full-throated, wonderful Welsh singing came through along with the sounds of darts, flooding the dirty street. It was the current popular air of Ireland, “Kathleen, Drop Oars With Me.” How the men loved that song, and couldn’t seem to get enough of the racy tune, singing it shift to shift in the mines as it grew stanza after stanza with even racier verses.
Shaking his own head at the sound and the loud guffaws at some joke or worse, Ian straightened his shoulders and quickened his gait.
He didn’t even turn his head and look back. Cwgglrowhtbatgwaqhmn!-- “Bishop’s Blessing Invokes the Conqueror of Darkness”-- and ”beorrthssiwwa” --”Defender of Our Descendants”! With a turn of the road his birthplace, and his father’s and grandfathers---on back to the refugees from the incursions into Romano-Britain by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes--his people’s home vanished under an ominous, sooty cloud that, in heavy rain, still did not dissipate.
The “Bishop’s Blessing”? No one knew anymore how it went. Alas, ‘twas lost, like so many ancient things of Gaelic lore and wisdom, sucked back into the very mists that drowned the moors and fens outside the town. And who was the good bishop? Perhaps, he wasn’t even a Christian prelate, since he was thought to have come to Wales a couple centuries before Patricius, the St. Patrick of the Irish, left Britain to evangelize the Emerald Island. He might have been a Druid priest, pouring blood from a ram’s horn on a stone altar set between huge stone monoliths, when he delivered his now forgotten incantation. Whatever it was, the “blessing” lingered in the old, old name, as such things often did, the substance lost forever, but the fact of them clinging to the tumbled stones and crags of the old country.
Yet Ian, a son of these coal-rich but otherwise impoverished mountains, wasn’t thinking of Druids and incantations. A Pentecostalist, a second-generation convert of the Great Welsh Revival before the turn of the century, he had his Bible for a firm foundation, and he knew it cover to cover as well as he knew his own work in the mines. Just turned twenty five, he had left his youth deep in the earth, in steaming hot chambers and tunnels, the world’s deepest, where outsiders, with other chances of gainful employment ready at hand, might well think no man should ever have to go to earn his bread. For Ian’s father, for Ian too, there had never been anything but the mine for a livelihood. To flee the town and look elsewhere for sustenance simply didn’t occur to them--unless, that is, you really had nothing and, then, America was the place for you! But Ian had his present and future all sewn up for him. His family had always served the mine, and, seemingly, always would. The digging ran deeper and deeper, but it always found coal. The mines had schooled him, disciplined him, inured him to hardship and, even better, shown him that the vein duty, if not forsaken as too hard, led to a motherlode of riches in the hereafter promised in the holy scriptures.
It took some change in his own heart and thinking to give up such a sure thing as the life in the mines. But God had always come first in the Dahl household. When God called, Ian listened, then obeyed (in that order), heedless of the cost. Of course, between the time of the Call and his obedience there was some reluctance and hesitation, if truth be said. Dahls did not embark on new, foreign ventures gladly, that is, precipitously, despite explosive Gaelic blood throbbing in their veins. Like Jacob the Supplanter with the Angel of the Lord at the Brook Jabbok, it took some intense wrestling of the spirit, extending over a year and then some, before Ian set his face like a flint toward the fleshpots of Swansea, a known seat of wickedness that God had chosen to penetrate with His lighthouse of Bible truth and righteousness.
One point of particularly sensitive contention between flesh and Divinity was finances. He thought he hadn’t a problem there, telling the Lord so when the Lord said to turn them over, that He wanted a fully yielded instrument. “But I’ve yielded Thee all I have, dear Lord!” he had protested. Yet the convicting Holy Ghost hadn’t let him alone until he confessed his sin, he had held back something. Every fortnight he turned over his wages to his mother, but kept a few pence back, until now he had ten pounds accumulated in a pickling jar under his bed. Once he had yielded it, the Lord said to give it to the church board for missions. He did it, and only then felt great and wonderful peace. But now he had nothing to go to in some future rainy day! But he saw the point of it all--things would come that even ten pounds could not cover, and then where would he be? He’d best trust the Lord for all his provision now, starting with nothing!
Ian’s dependence on God strengthened in this way, an old mine retiree and a member not in very good standing at the church for his known attendance at the pub had come one evening, tearfully pressed savings into Ian’s hand, and said the Lord said to give it to him. He protested, knowing the man’s need of it, but couldn’t persuade him not to give. As it happened, the man passed quietly away a week later, in great peace of mind and spirit. The gift? Exactly ten pounds!
A number of other points were dealt with in turn. He had thought he did not lean on the good opinion of men so much, solely trusting in His Lord’s, until one day the elders passed judgment on his going. Praying in council, they had come to agreement that what he was purposing was not of God, and also he was in no way fitted for such a great task. It was a sore test. They came to the Dahls after dinner, sitting in the parlor, and Ian was brought out by his mother, who then retired to the kitchen to her duties.
Out of respect for the church’s oversight, Ian submitted in every way possible, but could not see what they said they could see so plainly in the Spirit.
“You have no education for this venture of yours, my boy!” one elder said. Ian’s tongue almost vibrated, he had so much to say on that score, all based on scriptural accounts, how the Lord used the lowly and oppressed, not the high and mighty and “educated.” “There!” the elder pressed on. “I knew you had nothing to say. And, further, your going would impoverish your dear mother and your beloved family, not to mention, break the tie with your church!”
Ian’s tongue could not be restrained any longer. “I beg your pardon, sirs, but my brothers can take over the responsibility easily, for they both are working and so two wages can now be added together, not just one as in my father’s case or mine when I took over. She’ll be better off than before!”
“Better off than before, you say?” an elder exploded. “With you lost and wandering about the licentious fleshpots of Swansea, of all places? Mind your duty to us, mind your duty to the Lord, if you won’t mind your family’s!”
Ian’s face showed his great trouble. He couldn’t speak to these charges, for they were his business, whether he should go or not. He could take advice and even correction from the oversight, but he knew they were mistaken, speaking from well-intentioned hearts and not from the Spirit.
The widow came in timidly, offering her best Earl Grey tea--the only luxury permitted in the house. Hardly anyone looked at her, but one elder nodded, and she hurried back out. In terrible silence, the tea was served while Ian looked everywhere but at the concerned faces of the elders. Finally, the men indicated they needed to be going, and then fell to prayer. Ian shifted in his chair as prayer after prayer interceded to God for him, asking the Lord to impart to him wisdom for willful selfishness, divine direction for reckless waywardness, Christlike sobriety and duty for youthful lusts and far-fetched, vain imaginations.
When they had gone, their expressions all showing they doubly concerned now that Ian had not submitted and given up the mad idea, Ian turned to his mother. “They think it’s all in the flesh!” he cried. “That it’s all my fool idea, not God’s plan for my life!”
His mother’s hands twisted her apron. “Then why not wait a bit more, just to be sure, Ian? God can show them, and with the same vision you will go with their blessing. Surely, that would be best. What you are going to do, it would be better to do without breaking your heart.”
Deliberately not taking all her meaning, Ian shook his head. “They’ll never give the blessing. The circumstances are all against this, in their thinking. They’ve made up their minds on it--they simply can’t see it in the Spirit!”
His mother looked hard at him. What he said, if true, was a grave charge. To say the oversight was not seeing “in the Spirit,” that was to say they weren’t functioning as they should at all.
“Could you only be right, and all the others--”
Ian had tussled with that doubt a thousand times if once since his Call came. What could he say to it? He simply couldn’t answer. Events would either prove or disprove him.
As far as his own leading, confirmed by scriptures in his daily reading, was concerned, the road ahead shone open and clear, and he was free to go if he still wanted God’s whole and perfect will for his life. Well, he did! After wrestling with the elders, he wanted God’s will more than ever. It didn’t affect him then that all his relatives and most of his friends were dead-set against his going. “Throwin’ your fool, young life away, are ye now?”--that was their response. This was a lot easier to deal with than with the elders’ charges. He could argue Christ the Lord had spoken all too plainly about losing one’s life for His sake, hadn’t He now? Why couldn’t they encourage him in the Lord’s work? They made it so difficult, when it was hard enough to leave home and family.
A bit of money in hand, that was all he had to begin his life’s next venture, the first being his entrance into the mines as an apprentice to his father. When his father died in the last big explosion, he had stepped into well-worn shoes, and worn them well. But now his older brothers could take his place, supporting the family. It was high time to go! The Holy Ghost impelled him. He hadn’t any excuse left to present to the Throne.
Any more time spent on considering his Call and answering to objections from various people would be pure sin on his part, he decided. Whatever the town thought, even with naysayers at church holding back on their blessing and telling him to wait on God a few years more just to be extra sure, he had to go, with his church’s blessing or not. The word was burning hot within his heart, and he could not rest at night until he dressed, packed his few necessaries including an old family heirloom, a ring with a royal crest that his father had given him after saying it had been the treasure of the intermarried families of Owenses and Dahls, and prayed a last time with his mother. How he was to accomplish such a great feat as founding a Bible College with students and teachers, who would contribute to it, where was it going to be, who would be enrolled--all these questions had to be answered somehow on the spot, for the Spirit wasn’t telling him, just sending him.
“I never did get that blessing of the elders!” he thought sadly again, and now that he was actually leaving the loss seemed unbearable as he trudged along, his footfalls frightening a hare chewing roadside grasses so that it bolted back into its hole in a hill of tailings. Being deprived of a blessing and the anointing oil on his forehead not only gave him great doubt and misgivings in his heart, to be misunderstood so by those whose spiritual oversight he greatly revered, but it hurt him most personally. Didn’t they remember his father’s faith, and the prophecy he had uttered in church a week before he was killed, that his eldest would “give God glory in a strange city, turning back the hand of the Foe from a people and a country lost in sin and pride”? How could they have forgotten that, when they all heard it?
Ian caught the first effects of a squall bearing up from the Bristol Channel toward the town and was soon drenched, the big waterdrops, half-ice, drilling right into his face, even striking his forehead beneath his Sunday service cap. The wind seemed intent on keeping him from going, tearing and blasting and pushing him backwards. Blinded by rain and mist, fighting for his way on the narrow road that was always threatening to fall into a black, mine-polluted brook that swept along it, he continued on into the gale, feeling a real terror for the first time, not of catching cold and sickness, but of the sin the elders had imputed to him.
How could he, alone, be right, and so many--so many--?
He wanted to get his Bible out right there for reassurance, but the wet would ruin it. So he kept walking, his knees working mechanically, without any heart in them. Agonies of doubt washed over him, and he cried out to God in the pouring rain and wind. It was good no one could have heard him, for he was next to witless in his anguish.
An hour later he was out of the worst of the storm, inner and outer, with nothing resolved. A dread settled in his heart, sinking to the marrow of his bones. He walked as if to his doom, but he kept going, nevertheless, with a young man’s stubbornness.
He had to stand on God’s Promises, hadn’t he? Anything less than faith was sin, wasn’t it? God was only pleased with faith, and to return to the old life was like Lot’s wife, looking back on the cities of the plain, when God was calling him forth to a new life of dependence on Him alone. How could he throw that over? For what? The life in the town seemed assured, set, regular, and not calling for any faith at all. Let the others settle back in the pasture, he had to go and plow new ground for the Lord! Somebody had to do it! He was the third generation since the biggest revival in the late ‘70’s, and something had to be done to relight the guttering fire on the altar. He just couldn’t turn around and go back, in effect, saying to all that faith didn’t matter, that God’s leading didn’t count for much, that security and comfort were all a man really required in life. Before long he’d be hanging out with the others at the Redstone, his hope of seeing the glory of God extinguished in his breast, a mug of ale slopping on his hand.
Never! he resolved, his teeth gritted. He never return to show them that! He felt he owed them his example, if nothing else. All his life he had heard preaching, that they needed to go forth in untrod paths to do the bidding of the Spirit, yet no one went out! The church was declining every year, as the old, Revival generation with tremendous Holy Ghost fire in them died and were replaced with the sorts that drifted away from church when they got on at the mines and were next seen hanging out after shifts at the Redstone!
Rain began again, and it was one squall after another all the way to Swansea. But the weather was a little thing to a man commissioned to start an institution for spiritual warfare and intercession that no one thought possible except the One that sent him forth.
And, this last was his greatest proof he was on track to Mount Zion, hadn’t he sacrificed his Isaac? She, too, hadn’t understood why he should have to leave. Why couldn’t the Bible college be set up in the cheery old town where he had so many relatives, friends, and fellow churchmen willing to help with it? Why go among absolute strangers, who wouldn’t know him, nor care a whit about the building of the Kingdom? It hadn’t made any sense to her. And so he was all the more confirmed in his intention to leave, since the one he cared about most was trying to drag him back. Well, she hadn’t succeeded! He had sacrificed his heart desire, and, surely, that was the sacrifice that pleased God more than anything he could do with his working hands and back! It cut him in two to discover that she couldn’t see what he saw--that this new, pure work had to be amongst strangers, that God might be glorified for raising up a college for which no man would be able to take the credit. In the hometown, no one could have claimed that! But in Swansea...
Why Swansea? Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd, and Rhondda, all respectable, hard-working towns, were on the road down from C. But Swansea was the city God had chosen to do His great work of revival, which, with Cardiff, guarded the Bristol Channel for the Welsh since time immemorial. The guardianship was more than a strictly material thing too. Old accounts held that the rich man who had given the crucified Christ his tomb for burial, Joseph of Arimathea, preaching and baptizing in Glastonbury across the channel, had crossed over one fine day and planted Christianity in the neighborhood of Swansea by converting a heathen king and his subjects, but that, of course, was long before the enemy-pressed, ancestral Dahls cross the Black Mountains, and forded the bitter, cold Usk in spate to save their lives, nationality, and freedom.
He had slept in haystacks before, while running about as a barefoot lad in high summer, and now he did so, helping himself to a farmer’s dry stockpile under a sheltering roof built on a lone pasture where there were no dwellings. That night he slept well, and heard the rain come down hard on the roof, and he was warm and snug.
In the morning he got up, stretched, and taking his carpet bag, shook the straw wisps from his clothes, and set out once again.
He had just rounded a mountain and the village of that name when he heard children crying. Following the sound he came to a big tree, and found huddled together, a family of four children and a tall, thin, young woman. The smallest shrieked when she saw him, but the mother hushed her and gripped a big stick.
It was raining even then, and the tree wasn’t providing shelter.
“You all really need to get out of the wet,” he said. “You’ll get sick.”
The woman said nothing and just looked down.
For the sake of the children, he made it his business.
He kept asking until he learned, bit by bit, that she had been turned out of her house up the valley, by a drunken husband (her second) who had beat her every day, she had no where to turn, as none of her family lived in Pontypridd, and she had no money to pay for transportation to Carnarvon, where she did have some family.
“Why did you go this way then?” he asked. “I’m going to Swansea, and that would be a better place for you too, I would think. They’ll have plenty of lodgings.”
The mother ran cold, trembling hands through her wet hair, disentangling her scarf, which wasn’t keeping her hair dry anyway. She winced as she felt places on her head, then looked at a smear of blood on her fingers.
Ian tried again, asking her if she had anywhere to go.
“I don’t know,” she said dully, her eyes cast down. “I can’t seem to think what best to do anymore. He knocked me so many times in the head, it make me so dizzy at times, I can hardly sweep or hold baby.”
Ian was confused. He looked and saw only four dirty-faced, wan children, two boys and two girls. “Baby? Where you be having the baby?”
The woman, without looking into his face, shrugged. “She never grewed. She died quick. I don’t know why. She just wouldn’t take my milk, little as she was, and then she stopped breathin’. I shook her good, but nothin’ helped. Then--then he beat me for it. I thought he would have killed me, and I wanted him to. When he stepped out to bury it, I took the children and we ran. He caught us, dragged us back. Then beat me again. Then he threw us out and left us. I didn’t dare go back.”
Ian stared at her. This was beyond him. Nothing in C. had been so wretched as this poor woman and her family. Miners looked after their own, and then some. If anyone fell on hard times neighbors helped out. They all pulled together, and so that was how they got through the explosions and all the accidents and hardships. Having lived that way all his life, he thought all Welsh lived the same way. Apparently not!
Ian, interrupting his journey, went to look for a farmer and cart, and found one on the outskirts of Pontypridd, where she had lived but had been thrown out. Grumbling until Ian sweetened his hand with money, the farmer and Ian set out in a cart pulled by two horses to rescue the woman and children. Fortunately, Ian had thought ahead what he needed, and explaining what he had seen the farmer’s wife sent along some blankets and food, and these were like gifts from heaven as he bundled up the freezing children and put them in the wagon, and then began giving the woman and the children some of the bread and cheese.
They ate as if they had been starved a long time, and the food was soon gone.
When they reached Pontypridd, he turned to the young woman behind him, who hunched down in the wagon, not looking out as if she were afraid to be seen. “If you can’t stay in this town, we’ll have to go on.”
“But this is my cart and it ain’t goin’ on!” the farmer snorted.
“Not for good money?” Ian challenged him. “I’ll make it worth your going.”
“I don’t think your money worth the ache this wagon gives my old bones!” the farmer said, turning in at his own barn and fenced yard.
The farmer’s wife came out from the kitchen, sizing them all up in a kindly, pitying glance. “Father dearest, tell them to come in and warm up before you take them to the next town!” she commanded her husband most sweetly but firmly.
“As you say, Mother dearest, ” he said, meekly as a lamb. “As you say, darlin’.”
Ian, who had been praying hard, was so surprised he thanked God repeatedly as he helped the mother and children down.
After warming up at the stove, and drying off some and being fed some warm milk and fresh baked biscuits, it was hard to get them back on the road, but the farmer was anxious to get rid of them, so they were forced to go.
Ian thanked the smiling farmer’s wife, and when he tried to give her a pound note she waved it away, though her spouse scowled at her.
“Never mind him,” she told Ian. “He’s got a good heart, only it takes a bit of diggin’ through the old crust to get to it! It’s all in how you speak to him if you wants him to do as you say, I’ve found.”
They all went out to the wagon, and then Ian’s heart sank. A man was watching them, lounging out by the gate.
“Looks like a piece of trouble to me,” the farmer said under his breath. “I know him. Always stirring things up at the pub, that bloke is. He smells none too good. And his teeth are bad in front. Always spittin’ wrong and crackin’ his knuckles and pickin’ at those teeth of his, and gettin’ thrown out for not payin’ proper--”
Ian began praying again in earnest, and since the man waited for them to come up in the wagon, he had a minute or so to get out what he needed, in tongues this time. He had watched mine fights now and then, and they could get bloody and deadly with shovels and pick axes. Once he had watched a man, a troublemaker who would never quit bad-mouthing others, take on a big fellow that wouldn’t put up with any man’s abusing him. He was brained with a shovel before the foreman could get to them. Though in temperament he was as much a fighter as any Welshman, his spirit had found a far better way than using brute, physical combat to achieve desired ends.
“Hey, you!” exclaimed the farmer, gawking at him. “What kind of speakin’ is that? Frenchie talk? Where did ya larn that?”
Ian didn’t care, and didn’t answer. He looked back at the woman and children in back, and their faces registered one emotion--terror. He wondered what the man could want, having thrown them out. Or was he having a change of heart?
Ian didn’t know it, but the farmer’s wife had a sharp eye, and she hadn’t missed what was happening, nor even the fact the man was holding a big stick. “Git boy! Git boy!” she said. She had set their guard dogs loose, and the dogs bounded across the yard without barking and made straight as arrows for the man at the gate.
He saw the sizes of the black brutes and their clear intent to have him for dinner, and he suddenly took off, running for his life, the dogs following and chomping at his heels as he kicked and yelled with all his might.
The farmer started off as nothing had happened out of the ordinary, and not a word more was said until they reached Rhondda. The dogs, after having chased the man into a shedlike building, turned back to the farmhouse, tails wagging.
“Out with ye, this is far as we go!” the farmer finally said as he drew up at their destination.
The trip was no long one, for Rhondda was not far from Pontypridd, but the hilly country made it slow traveling. Stiff and cramped, they got down from the wagon at the first inn.
“Coaches stop here, take ya to the train, or wherever you want,” the old man added.
Ian gave the churl some money, and the farmer, without a nod of his head, made double time back down the road. The smallest crying because they wanted to stay in the wagon and not have to walk, the family was coaxed into the inn.
Ian saw the innkeeper’s face fall, for they must have presented a bedraggled sight--a tall, thin woman with unkempt hair and clothes, and four small ones in rags hugging her thin shanks.
“You can probably warm up here while you wait for family to come, if you can get word to them”
The innkeeper moved toward them shaking his bald, white-fringed head. “No, they’re not coming in here like that. My patrons will not stop in and I’ll lose business! Be off with you! This isn’t a waiting room at the train station! Go there if you want to warm up!”
“Where is the station, sir?” Ian inquired. “Can we walk it to there?”
The innkeeper looked at the children dubiously. “It be two miles and--”
“Then they’ll have to stay here and wait,” Ian insisted.
The innkeeper folded his arms and shook his head. “I said, nothing doing! This is a proper business I run here, not a sitting parlor for people who tramp in here off the street!”
Ian took out his money. “Well, I’ll pay for a room then.”
The innkeeper, seeing the money, changed his expression immediately. He bustled the family into a small, but warm room heated by a stove, and helped them hang coats and scarves up to dry.
“A nice hot meal, now that you’re all settled in, sir?” he asked Ian. “We have anything you’d like, or will fix it fresh, just name it, sir. But I would suggest our kidney pie. My place is known for them, and the chips, of course, with some hot cinnamon ale for the lady and a nice, cold stout for the gentleman?”
“Of course, bring what you think best of whatever you have--but no stout for me, please. I won’t be staying here. I’m going on, as soon as this woman and her children find their kin.”
The innkeeper glanced at Ian as if he were seeing something strange, then shaking his head, left them to get the dinner sent.
Settling the amount with the innkeeper, Ian left the mother to take care of things, and went out to think. He had spent all of five precious pounds since he left C. What should he do now? Obviously, the woman needed help if she was to locate her relatives in Carnarvon. He went back in, got a name of someone she knew, her married sister’s, and took it to the innkeeper. He handed Ian paper and a pen. Ian wrote what he thought should be said, put down the inn’s address, and said the family would be waiting. The innkeeper took it and went to post it immediately, and it went out that day by coach.
To save money and any wrong impression that might get started, Ian didn’t take a room at the inn, but walked through the town until he found the train station, and then waited here, returning only when he wanted to know how things were with the family at the inn. It was an opportunity just to pray, and he spent the time that way and reading his Bible as well.
Four days later, and his remaining pounds gone for expenses, an electric automobile pulled up at the inn. A well-dressed gentleman and his wife got down, and they went in, introduced themselves to the innkeeper. He immediately summoned the woman and children, but there was no finding Ian, so they left., leaving word with the innkeeper. When Ian came in, the innkeeper told him what happened, and Ian saw he was now free to go...penniless as the day he was born!
He started out, feeling almost as if God had deserted him, but he hadn’t got more than a few steps from the inn when he saw a familiar face hurrying up after him.
“Wait, sir!” the innkeeper called out. “There is something you forgot. Or I forgot to tell you. The gentleman who picked up the lady and her children insisted he pay for all their expenses, so you have this coming back, in addition to a gift for your trouble from the gentleman and his wife.”
Exactly ten pounds!
On arriving in Swansea, he quickly found the town’s business district, and looked around at the factories and shipping warehouses and offices, then because it was growing late in the day and hard rain was starting in again he felt he needed to find some shelter for the night.
Though thwacked in the face with rain, Ian was agog with the wonders of his first exposure to a big city of the world that made its living with factories, shipping and international trade. Waves of terror and wonder struck and washed over his bedazzled head--terror over the stark reality of being in the city he had only previously known from hearsay, and wonder not so much over the glories he beheld but that God could choose so seemingly impossible a one as this to penetrate with His kingdom!
Right then and there, he might have been given a few lines of print the next day in the paper, except someone gave him a push that pitched him out of the path of a huge wagon of stout and ale, its sides emblazoned with “Whitebread’s Stout and Ale,” and “Guinness is Good for You!”
Every sight impressed Ian that Swansea was hard, unbroken ground. The uncaring expressions clamped on the people’s faces as they looked into windows containing glittering luxuries, the cruel thrust of the traffic that had no mercy on careless human life or limb, some of it new electrical or steam transport called the automobile, the relentless speed of city life itself--all without God’s direction, heart, and spirit, apparently.
“What could these city people with their white hands and worldly faces care about God’s kingdom?” he wondered. All he saw was greed, haste to get advantage, indifference to others, and--of course--immoral abandon and profligacy at the numerous pubs, theaters, gaming houses, and worse places. True, here and there tall spires reminded the crowds of another kingdom, but evidently it mattered nothing at all to them as they scurried about their business and pleasure. He went up to one fine brick and white-pillared edifice, but all the doors were locked, he couldn’t even get in to pray.
He found he wasn’t walking fast enough, and once again he nearly ended up under the wheels of another wagon transport except that someone’s shove saved him. He was always getting bumped into, so he tried to quicken his pace to move with the traffic flows, but somehow he was always turning round or pausing at the wrong times, for he kept getting in people’s way, provoking one curse and oath after another.
Stepping off the street into a courtyard to catch his breath, he watched grubby down-and-outs waiting for tea and biscuits at the back of one church. Some had decent faces and even childish innocence in their expressions. But most went in swearing and unregenerate, and later, the same came out swearing and unregenerate. One sidled over to him, giving Ian the unpleasant feeling a mine rat’s eyes were going over his body and beardless face with a knowing look, saying, “Hey, I can get you anyone and anything you want, chum, you just name it--”
Ian, not sure the lost soul would take to a younger man’s preaching hellfire and repentance at him, moved off. Swansea--just what he suspected--a sink of iniquity! What was the Lord getting him into? His heart, despite all his Biblical assurances and promises, sank further and further down in his being.
What a place! He didn’t know his way around at all, and the overwhelming maze didn’t get any friendlier or shrink closer to his own scale of things. Shutting out the sky, towering, thick walls all around crushed down upon him until he could scarcely breathe. Every step he took revealed vast stretches of city. Shipping company offices, tradeunion halls, banks, theaters, pubs, an opera house, a convent, the fish market, the passenger and commercial docks, hotels, fancy shops, statues and fenced parks, the city hall, the big emporiums and stores, asylums for the insane, a charity house, hospitals, consulates--his eyes blurred taking them all in. Factories, warehouses, Government bureaus, Scotland Yard, police, finally he found himself back in the same spots, and bobbies eyeing him as if he were loitering. He moved on again in another direction, passing schools, churches, and mansions of city magnates, then rows and rows of tall, brick houses. Wind and rain was so bad by this time that he was wet all through and was desperate to find somewhere he could stand in out of it. A row of small shops, and a grocery, opened late, with a wide awning, offered welcome cover. As he was waiting for a break in the weather, he looked at the wall board and found pinned notices of things for sale. There were flats and bachelor rooms for let, and one caught his eye--”Clean Room in Modern, Electric House with French Breakfast to Christian Gentleman, no Solitary Female Callers, No Pets, no Smoking and Drinking of Spirits or Card Games, Payment in Advance. Daylight Hours only, Make Inquiries to Proprietress, Mrs. Algernon C. Skittlethorpe, at--”
By the time he read the address, the store had closed, the owner casting Ian a suspicious, wary look like he had best be off and not loitering, and he was shut out on the strange street for the night. He knew he had to hurry to find the room, for no one would take an unknown man in after dark in such a city, he sensed.
Wandering the streets, buffeted by wind and rain, the hopelessness bore down on him as if dark, bitter cold waters had closed over his head. He prayed in tongues, there was nothing else for the situation. How could he find his way in a strange city so uncaring and cold as this one? Suddenly, a street cleaner for removing leaves, rubbish and dog droppings from the pavements and walks came peddling down the empty street ahead in his bicycle cart, and Ian ran over to him. He gave out the address, the old man mumbled something Ian couldn’t possibly understand, and fortunately the fellow pointed, so Ian went in that direction. He was wandering about again, praying in the Spirit, when the same man appeared, evidently having caught up with him. Pointing and taking Ian’s elbow, he hurried him right up to the door of a high-gabled, three-storey residence timbered tudor-style.
Still thanking both God and His humble instrument, Ian pulled at the modern electric door chime before he noticed the sign that said, “Visitors, Please Do Not Ring & Disturb Residents.” A young girl in a brown uniform, giggling over his dripping wet miner’s boots on the carpet or the rustic way he spoke his request to see Mrs. Algernon Skittlethorpe, let him in and left him in a narrow entrance with highly-polished wood stairs leading up to the second floor.
Above the mahogany umbrella rack, a large picture swirling with mauve, purple and golden clouds and an angel holding a blond-ringleted child in his arm and another by the hand, the frame inscribed in gold with “Zu Gott, ” caught his eye. He had never seen so costly and beautiful a work of art before. Apparently, the house had known wealth, for along with the gold-framed picture he noticed a big jar filled with peacock plumes and beside it a very tall , easily tipped stand on which he found set upon delicate lace a small, silver-brocade, St. Michael-decorated ornament, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, attached to the stand with a silver chain. When he opened it, stiff, heavy leaves crackled as if it were only for show and had never been meant to be read. His eye fell on “By my God I can leap over a wall,” inscribed in gilded, ornate script, and his heart leaped to see something so encouraging to him in the circumstances.
“I must be in the right place of the Lord’s choosing, to be given this wonderful confirmation,” he thought, turning his smiling face to admire the first electric ceiling lamp he had seen close up
He heard steps down the hall from the entrance, then the door opened and a thin-framed woman in clothes that looked like widow’s weeds or spinster's garb, moved toward him. Despite the dark at her end of the hall, he could see her first. Her face looking worried despite the faint smile and her nose pinched and red, with dark, thin hair covered in a hat like a cap. Wearing a sweater, there was a pen in a top pocket. She came quickly, then saw him in the hall lamp’s light Her mouth was small, and held tightly so her lips hardly showed It was her black eyes, her chief feature, that caught him up, they were so piercing and experienced as they took in his size and attributes.
“You’re late to be calling,” she said, glancing with all-discerning, landlady eyes at the coal-darkened hand that held his headgear. “I’m in the midst of dinner with family.”
Ian excused himself, feeling the search-light of her inspection rather keenly. “I can wait, here or outside,” he offered. “Or I can come back tomorrow.”
Her knowing, exposing eyes dug sharper at him, especially his little carpet bag. “You have another place reserved in the meantime?”
“No, Madam, ” he confessed, feeling ashamed of his rough, stained hands for the first time in his life. “I just don’t want to be a nuisance, if you’re not able to see to me at this time.”
Rain and wind were beating at the door, making a good effort to push it in and engulf all within up to their necks.
“Nonsense, you can’t go back out in that nastiness!” she said, shaking her capped head. “Well, my dinner will get cold, but I’ll show you the room now if I must. You may not want it. I am full up, and this happened to open as I had to let a girl go.”
Thinking he heard doors closing ahead, Ian followed her up the stairs, and she took him up yet another, and down a long, dark, polished hall where the gas lamps were unlit, and finally she opened a door, and turned on the modern, overhead light with a wall switch.
Used to the gloom of oil and gas lighting, the stark, electric brightness of the white-walled interior made him squint. Ian saw a wardrobe, a bed made up with white coverlet and woolen blankets, a window, and a small night stand with a white pitcher and wash bowl sized for a child or dwarf.
“It’s my second housemaid’s room,” the landlady said wearily. “I had to discharge her, what with the outrageous wages they’re all demanding these days. She wouldn’t stay on at the agreed wage, so now I have to do her work myself to get on. It’s right terrible--”
She began complaining about the high prices of everything, but Ian’s head was spinning, and he desperately wanted the room. It was the finest thing he had ever seen, his own room. At home he had always shared rooms, wardrobes, and even beds.
“Your trade and occupation, sir?” she asked once he had approved of the room.
“My people are mining folk, Madam, but I’ve come to find something else.”
The news seemed to be a rude discovery of something indiscreet from the rigid expression that her face took. “Well, I trust you may find it!” she commented, giving his hands another doubtful glance. “I don’t normally take such young men as yourself, and certainly not men from the mines, just those who are well-established and respectable. Of course, I can’t expect that sort will like something this small and narrow for the rate I must charge to make it worth my labors.”
The price seemed stiff when he mustered nerve to ask for a week’s stay, but with the confirmation in the Book of Common Prayer bolstering h is belief he was on the right path, he felt sure in his heart Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s boardinghouse was his new home. The landlady took the money from his hand at once, and went downstairs to bring him change. Standing in front of the angel-embossed book, the peacock plumes seemingly crowning her odd cap, she carefully counted out the pence he was due back, and then went over the rules, handing him three folio-sized pages of carefully itemized material. Her face was stern as she covered the major points.
“My dinner is on the table, and I don’t have time at this moment to conclude this interview, but I’ll let you stay on condition of finishing it in a few days--will you agree to that?”
Ian, feeling the continuing penetration of her gaze, but impressed by how spotless, efficient, and beautiful the house seemed, agreed whole-heartedly, and she handed him the room’s key.
“Read the sign by the door, please! You must learn not to ring the bell when you go in and out--according to the hours specified, of course. People work out of this house, as well as in, and they can’t be bothered answering the door for you or any other resident. Also, keep your room locked when you are out of it, even to going to the men’s bath and washroom, which is a floor down, third door to the right. I refuse to be held accountable for any resident’s lost articles, either left in the washroom room or in your room! Scrub your own pitcher and wash bowl and keep the water fresh, please! As for laundry and mending, you can arrange with my laundry maid the times and charges, as I don’t do that sort of work. Breakfast 4:30 sharp to 5:30 sharp, and then the door is closed for cleaning up, so don’t come the last minute and expect to remain. But if you’ve given yourself sufficient time, come to the parlor on the second storey, first door to the right, and help yourself to one bread roll with jam and butter and one coffee and whatever else you find on the sideboard. Absolutely no eating in your private room, your meals other than breakfast must be taken at restaurants. The wash bowl and pitcher are to be used for no other purposes than personal face hygiene! You can leave your dirty cup and utensils there in the dish receptacle provided, and please remember the others who wish a seat as to how much time you spend, as seating is limited. Go over the Owner-Guest Letting Covenant papers and see to the rules of keeping your room clean for inspection, and see if they are satisfactory, and then I’ll be talking to you again on the matter. And no singing or declaiming aloud from the newspaper either to yourself or to a guest, and no playing an instrument or a gramophone! Chewing tobacco and spitting and cutting your hair and moustaches in your room is absolutely forbidden and treated as grounds for immediate ejection. But that’s all covered in the Letting Covenant. No family and pets and friends allowed in private rooms, I might add. You must entertain them in the breakfast parlor between the proper, specified hours, where there is adequate room and public accountability. Since you are provisional, it won’t be necessary to tell you that I will let no infraction go without immediate removal of all your belongings and your person from the premises! There will be no arrears in rent permitted, since all is advanced by your coming to me in person, not my going to you. I keep strict account, so there is absolutely no going beyond the day. If I am obliged to go to a resident in person, there’s an extra charge of two days for a penalty. For when you leave the residence for good, I must have a week’s advance in addition to cover the time it will take to find another to take the room. You will find a towel and washcloth for each guest in your room, which can be replenished from the linen closet, but I don’t provide the gentlemen their bathing or washing soaps, hair ungents, and other toilette articles--you must do that yourself, and clean up afterwards for the next guest too, and utilize the facilities with all due consideration for other’s timely need of it! Any soap left behind, my maid will remove immediately, as I don’t permit it to remain for others to assume as their own. Personal property must remain personal property at all times, and everyone here abides by that rule. If anything is taken from the residence or from any room holder, or if there is the slightest fraternizing with my maid, both are grounds for my dismissing you and I will notify the authorities as well, in case they wish to look into the complaint. We are all honest, god-fearing people here, and I wish to keep it so. That way not a lot of house rules are required. I can trust gentlemen to behave like gentlemen. ”
“Yes, of course!” he heartily agreed to all, even if the restrictions and admonitions of the Covenant made his head spin a bit.
A slight, very little smile appeared on the lipless mouth, unexpectedly warming the chill of the stern walled chin and face. “Any questions, Mr.--? “
“Ian Dahl,” he introduced himself now that she wanted to know. But before he could straighten out his thoughts and think of any, she didn’t have time to wait, excused herself and moved away briskly like the businesswoman she was.
The next morning, after cleaning up in the washroom and nearly chipping a tooth on the bread roll of his “Continental French” breakfast with several silent, long-faced, big-mustaschioed, spectacled men, who pored deep into newspapers the whole time they were drinking coffee, Ian went down directly to the port, hoping to come up with day labor on the docks or in the big warehouses.
He found his way into a hiring hall for the shipping companies, just one of the tradeunion- run halls where no one looked in your eyes if you were a newcomer. Sitting for hours on a hard, worn wood bench, he had plenty of time to think about his friends and fellow-workers back in the mines and what they must be doing and saying, though that life now seemed a thousand miles removed from his present circumstances. He waited with dozens of men, and from time to time a union hirer would call out a gang to follow him, and various men he eyed and hand-picked would get up and follow him. Everyone except him seemed to recognize lots of old friends, standing eyeball to eyeball as the greeted each other, but the general back-slapping and joke-filled camaraderie was cheering, even if he was never invited into the charmed circle.
Two such old buddies were friendly enough, but then they began to mildly disagree over something.
“Not on your life, you couldn’t get me for all the world’s money to take a ride across the Atlantic!” one commented to his friend about a new ship on her maiden voyage.
“And why not, mate? “ the other challenged him, winking at the others listening in. “Everybody within a hundred miles of Southampton where she was outfitted was running to sign on the crew list. There’s no finer ship than this afloat! Lord Ismay has done the White Star Line proud, I say! Real proud!”
“But I don’t care if she is the biggest and best thing Ismay and his White Star have coughed up to date, I just don’t like those bloody ocean voyages--my bones ache something unbearable in all that damp and cold! Even if it is April, there’s still a lot of ice in those parts, I daresay.”
“You’re just getting old, mate, but my three brothers in Southampton saw their main chance and took it. Now they be sailing pretty, right close to Newfoundland, I reckon, for she’s in the third day according to--”
The two men were catching the attention of many others by this time, and some eavesdroppers fell to arguing about the draught and displacement.
“She’s the biggest there is, I say!”
“Naw--where is your figgurs? I gotta have proof.”
Not very interested, Ian heard one impossible estimate after another bandied about, until the group nearest him on the benches settled on a vessel of over 800 feet and 66,000 tons.
“That’ll make her the biggest then!” the man who started the argument crowed. “I told you so,” he laughed, elbowing his friend, who scowled and muttered something about the 19th Century’s giant steamer, the paddle-driven Great Eastern which boasted double hulls and record speed and was used to lay the first transatlantic cable.
“But this liner could swallow the Great Eastern, Jonah’s fish, and then some. She’s bigger than anything else afloat, she’s faster with triple screws, and she’s nonsinkable with water-tight compartments all along the ship’s length!”
“And what is her name, if you be so wise about it? Why haven’t I heard it?”
“Well! If you’d read the papers, you’d know she goes by Titan! That’s on account of her size, meaning she’s like those big fellows, giants, they had back before Noah’s days. Nothing like her on all the seven seas! If somehow you could set her on end, she’d be taller than the Tower of Babel, or, for that matter, anything they got in New York City. And she’s made to last a thousand years. I know, because my cousins in Belfast are millwrights for Harland and Wolff and built her strong enough to slice through any amount of ice and still keep going without batting an eye! Besides bathtubs and steam baths as big and fancy as the Sultan of Turkey’s, not to mention a swimming pool, and a passenger list of the most beautiful ladies of the royalty and the cream of society, she’s got electric lights all through, and some new invention that can call any other ship at sea and get an answer back in a few seconds--invisible messages flying through the air without need of wires! How about that, guv’nor?”
Those who knew added even more fanciful details, until the vessel seemed to be a colossus of man’s genius, able to conquer every force of nature and do it while indulging thousands of passengers with inconceivable luxuries and unheard of creature comforts.
But Ian was not called, and he realized the other men were always recognized from having been in the process a considerable time, whereas he was a complete stranger no one would even look at. He didn’t get called that day, nor the next, nor the next.
Disappointed, he tried another hall, then another, each time finding that newcomers were as good as invisible. Once again he caught a bit of conversation about the White Star Line’s fabulous Titanic-- for that was her true name--and heard she had just been struck and sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic, going down with great loss of life.
There was much talk about it in the hiring halls, and people commiserating with one another, and then trooping off to favorite pubs, to solace the ones who had lost chums or even relatives. Having his own prospects to consider, Dahl paid the news little attention, reflecting only that an “unsinkable ship” sounded to him like a very proud and vain production, and in the Bible account whatever was high and haughty sooner or later came to an unhappy end. Too bad for the souls--if they weren’t right with their Creator. Death itself was not much to be feared if you were righteous.
Having lived with danger and death in the mines, it was nothing new to him. Periodic explosions of mine gas and cave-ins and such came with the job. Besides, he had to face grim facts around him. He watched the same fellows getting called, day after day, but he was overlooked. Even the ne’er-do-well with the smart eyes who had offered him a shady deal or something worse outside the big Methodist cathedral, he was hired on when the benches were nearly empty and Ian, who thought himself more what an employer would be seeking, felt certain he had the best chance ever of breaking into day labor for the union longshoremen.
Stiffly, feeling so unaccustomed to sitting instead of working, Ian walked back through the maze of towering, soot-black warehouses, emporiums, and shipping companies, climbing into the residential quarter of the city, his heart in his boots. As before, he returned to his room to throw himself on his bed and pray long and hard, stopping to read the scriptures and reassure himself with God’s promises. When he felt better, he would sleep, but it usually took hours to gain that higher ground after what he had experienced at the port.
At the week’s end he knew, from pressing point by point through the skull-littered, desert-wilderness of the Covenant, that he needed to see Mrs. Skittlethorpe, as she had not deigned it necessary to finish the “interview” with him yet. This time he wasn’t so conscious of his hands--they were turning quite white from idleness. But would he stay on another week? He must then pay two weeks, one in advance. What with occasional but necessary meals he took in the city to supplement the meager Skittlethorpe fare, and with monies paid for the room, the ten pounds were fast shrinking in his pocket. He felt a pang when he handed the landlady the remaining amount, and she took it and held out a few pence in return, which he took almost feeling guilty for begrudging her the remnant.
She did not thank him for the payment, but wrote a receipt and handed it to him, which included his first week’s amount. Her eldest daughter came in as her mother was beginning to complete the interview, with Ian standing before the open door of the Skittlethorpe rooms. “Mumsie, the bread dough is--”
The landlady gave Ian a weary, annoyed look. “Not a moment’s time can I take for this, I see! Well, Mr. Dahl, next week then, if not before. There’s some serious things I think I really need to go over with you about. But I’ve got to go. Not one girl I hire can do my breaded breakfast rolls properly, so I must see to it myself, and what with all the other--”
She shut the door on Ian, slid the bolt, and her rapid, heavy footfalls carried to Ian through the floorboards as she hurried off to the kitchen and her baking.
Wondering from her tone and remark what “serious things” she “really needed to go over” with him, Ian went back to his room to seek God’s strength. When his money was gone, where would he go then? No free, warm, fragrant haystacks available in a large city! Scotland Yard and adjoining police hall and jail, with bobbies sallying forth with shiny, black nightsticks, told him they wouldn’t permit loiterers like himself to be hanging about businesses, shops, and banks, getting in the way of the well-dressed, monied . crowd.
Swansea was, as far as the Spirit went, a howling desert wilderness but without any Pillar of Fire to lead people through. Big churches and cathedrals everywhere, but he hadn’t turned up a single Pentecostal meeting hall in all his tramping about. Nevertheless, the next day, Sunday, he tried to find one, but despite much walking he found only Methodist, Roman Catholic, Congregational, Presbyterian, Church of England, and Lutheran sanctuaries and establishments, all big, high-walled, imposing but chilling to his eye. Low church, dissenting, “free” or high church, Anglican and Catholic, Nonconformist or Papist, it meant nothing if the end result was the same high walls and no inviting Christian fellowship of the kind he was wanting. The following day he kept doggedly walking, looking for something to let for the night that would be cheaper than Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s establishment. If he could only find some job or day labor, he might be able to provide for himself that way. But after inquiring at all the places listed at the grocer’s, there were no openings for rooms at the moment, nor were any promised, and the prices were none better.
Famished and feeling he had nothing to lose, he did something different. For the first time he went and stood with the down-and-outs at the back of the Methodistery--a parish residence, sanctuary, and community hall, and went in with the others. A cheerful, apple-cheeked clergyman gave them a brief welcome with a jolly joke or two that no one could hear as they sat on chairs, talking and joking back and forth, waiting for the tea and pastry, and then an old woman in black, henna-red staining the tightly-curled wisps that showed out of her unadorned black bonnet, interrupted him. “Men! Be quiet and listen to me! If His Majesty the King were present, you would remove your hats. I expect you to do so before your Creator and Lord God, who has faithfully provided this for your sustenance today!”
Clearly, with a sharp-edged voice that could cut every conversation short, she meant business, and the surprised men hastily swept off their hats and caps, Ian’s included. The pastor thanked the black bonneted charity-woman for the pastry and tea on behalf of all the partakers, and he vanished from the hall, leaving the lady and two young women in nurses’ white uniforms to clean up when it was all over, and the used clothes donated by the church’s widows were distributed.
Ian, taking the tea she poured out, and helping himself to his choice of a berry-filled pastry, glanced at the giver, and saw her eyes were kind, even if her voice was sharp and commanding as a mining company representative demanding higher production.
She seemed to know him, singling him out for a word. “A woman really shouldn’t have to handle these rough men of the streets, but I can’t find anyone to take caring for them. Now why are you with these men? I don’t think they are all looking for work to do. Are you one of that sort, or--”
“I am looking,” Ian said. “It’s just nothing has turned up yet.”
She gave him a sharp look, then bent her head. “Father, grant this man an honest position. You have everything under Your wise and gracious control, and so we turn this matter of this young man’s employment totally over to You!”
Her head turned up, her expression triumphant. “I believe He’s heard, and your answer is on the way! Just don’t give up if you have to wait a trifle bit. The position’s coming!”
Ian, abashed, nodded at her and her two assistants, and went to his chair with his food and drink.
The end of his stay approached, and he had to settle something if possible with the landlady concerning whether he would go or remain.
Mrs. Skittlethorpe answered his knock, and he confessed he had not progressed in his original object in coming to the city.
She seemed to have second thoughts and came to the point. “So sorry, but how long will you be staying, Mr. Dahl, in the event you do succeed in finding a gainful position?”
“I don’t know, long enough to get a college for prayer and fasting founded.”
That was brash, and it slipped out. He saw from her shock that he had said the wrong thing.
“I see, “ she said after a bit. “Then you are an ordained minister, from a seminary?”
“No,” he replied, ashamed for the first time.
“An educator, with a degree then?”
He shook his head. “God has called me to this work,” he said quietly. “He calls such as myself, so that He might receive all the glory for the accomplishment, so as not to owe His glory to the abilities of men.”
That, indeed, was the thing to say in C., at church, but Swansea? He soon found he had misstepped, as she looked at him as if he were a mad, sick and delirious child, spouting utter nonsense. When she spoke, her eyes awarded him a most pitying look. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. There are other places for you to stay if you must pursue such a thing. Mrs. Klaus Oldenburg down the street perhaps--”
But poor Ian wasn’t assured that it would go any better than with this lady, so he held on with a drowning person’s persistent grasp on another, more able swimmer. “I’ll pay in advance for the next week, Madam, once I get on in a job somewhere. I’m young and able-bodied for any work, as you can see. They’ve got to take me sometime soon, I expect.”
Someone called the lady, and she turned her head, then came back to the problem. She seemed very distracted.
“I don’t know,” she said, eyeing his helpless expression. “That is expressly against my house rules. And I have so many things on the stove at the moment, and my family--”
She hurried off, interrupting the interview once again and leaving him waiting until he saw it was no use and he returned to his room to pray and seek God.
Everything was priced so terribly dear in Swansea, at least twice what they were in old C. Three weeks looking for work and being turned away, and he hadn’t anything left of his ten pounds.
Before long he was facing the wall-faced Mrs. Skittlethorpe, and she wasn’t at all pleased this time. “To be perfectly open, I wasn’t happy to have you, Mr. Dahl, after hearing your own rather odd description of yourself,” she stated outspokenly in a private conference in the entrance when he came in one evening. “Without a job you can’t be staying on, unless you have other plans? We are all working people here, you see. It wouldn’t do to have your example of idleness daily before us.””
“Yes, of course,” he said, his cheeks warming and sweat moistening his brow. “I mean to find work, but they want trade union men, and without a trade or a job they won’t consider me. And if no one knows me, then they always call on others whom they know. That’s what a stranger is up against here.”
“Harumph!” she replied. “Why else should they take you? You should have thought of that before leaving your home. It isn’t easy to get on in this city if you are not equipped, as you are finding out. Perhaps, it would be best for all if you returned to--”
Ian shook his head. His thoughts were so furious he could scarcely find his words. “I am praying a great deal--” “Praying? What may be your church, Mr. Dahl? I’ve not seen you go to church service yet--”
True, he hadn’t found a church, and had no desire to attend any that did not seek the Holy Ghost for its governance and life, but he hadn’t been slack, spiritually, in his spare time when he wasn’t job-searching. He had been praying almost constantly for the Lord’s provision in his room’s privacy.
“I’ve tried hard to find a place of worship,” he explained. “But there isn’t a Pentecostal hall so far that I’ve been able to locate. Would you know of one, Madam?”
The very word, “Pentecostal,” instantly proved so shocking it seemed to draw all the redness, her only facial color, from her nose. She appeared absolutely, incontestably, confirmed in her own mind about him, by her visible shudder. “Well, I trust you won’t find that sort skulking around here with their cheap tractates and noisy preaching on street corners to naïve, mindless folk,” she told him. “Now, I need the room for a gentleman who will be supervising in a warehouse, so will you go? I’ll give you another day to settle your affairs, since it was paid in advance, but no more! If someone should come and ask for the room, you must be out immediately.”
What could Ian do? He nodded, and then escaped back up the stairs to his room.
The next day he was facing being thrust out on the street, and he hadn’t the week’s rent in advance if he could convince the landlady to take him back.
“I can’t go back, and I have gotten woefully down in my money,” he confessed to her, when she had a moment’s time to speak with him after breakfast, a meal he hadn’t gotten because, according to the Agreement, he wasn’t entitled.
By this time Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s manner had all changed toward him. He was no longer “Mister Dahl,” a paying boarder, but something less than respectable, not only because his finances were in question but because he had failed to attach himself to any legitimate church. “But I can’t keep you! Mr. Skittlethorpe passed on and left me with this big house, but that is all! Now go! I am very busy. Just trying to keep my head above water is all I can do, without you burdening me!”
“Please,” he found himself begging. “If you have any place, in the attic or the shed out back, I’ll pay something for that. I only need a small space anyway. Anything will do.”
She seemed torn, despite her demeanor, to be thrusting him out without any prospects of a place and no money.
“But only for a day or so,” she said. “I can’t keep you without paying. I am not obliged to run a charity house for mendicants. If you need that sort of thing, then go to St. Holyrood’s Convent, or even my own St. Michael’s, where tea and jellied scones are dispensed twice a month to those of the indigent who qualify.”
Scalded with shame, Ian nodded, and she showed him a place high in the gable, a closet-room, with a leak coming in around the window. He put his bed there, all there was room for, and hung his few clothes on a nail. Then he prayed and searched for God’s help, hour after hour. With no meals included, he had to go out for something to eat. But he fasted the first few days, and then came another interview with Mrs. Skittlethorpe at the bottom of the stairs.
“I was wrong to be persuaded against my policy to keep you,” she informed him. “People are talking about it, how I let you stay on for so little, while they pay much more for a roof over their heads. It just isn’t done!”
How could he argue with that? He needed shelter, for police would haul him off to jail and a work-brigade if he had no work and address to show. His money was gone. He had to tell her.
“Is there any man’s work here I could do for my keep?”
The landlady was shocked. She shook her head slowly. “What are you thinking of? You came here, presuming on me, and now you demand employment!”
Ian felt lower than a vagrant cur, from the way she put it to him. Somehow he had misrepresented himself to her, deliberately, she said, though that hadn’t been the case at all. He had no money, but that wasn’t a crime, was it? Only it seemed so, in Swansea! From her words he was dishonest! He had taken advantage of her!
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Madam,” he choked out. “I see I should have brought more money saved up. I’ve run out, you see, looking for a position.”
She smiled thinly at his now greenish expression. “But you haven’t been diligent. You haven’t tried everything! There must be some gainful position for a young man like you. You aren’t really set to find work, or you would have found it. You don’t see other men of your age wandering the streets, do you? Society can’t have that, you know. I’ve heard the ships that call here are always willing to take deck hands, and so the police get rid of them that way.”
Ian, again, was made ashamed as well as horrified at the idea of being pressed into service aboard an outbound ship. What she said was true, that the men of Swansea seemed to all have homes, and could always find ample day labor if that was all they had.
But he, a stranger, couldn’t ask everywhere, not where he was dead certain, as a country Welshman in workingmen’s clothes, to be turned out. He wasn’t college educated, he wasn’t tradeunion, he wasn’t--the disqualifications went on and on. He had grown so discouraged that he couldn’t ask where he was certain to be turned out. Why didn’t Mrs. Skittlethorpe, who was a native of the city, know the situation? But, then, as a native, she couldn’t know how a foreigner faced nothing but stone walls.
Surprising himself, a verse came to his lips from Luke, “Nothing shall be impossible with God.”
“What did you say?” Mrs. Skittlethorpe replied, her eyes widening.
Ian thought about it, answering slowly. “I just meant that God can do anything. The Bible tells us that in the Gospel of Luke, chapter--”
She shrugged. “Never mind where. That’s your Pentecostal way of going on, using the Bible to cover absolute foolishness! But in the real world we must face things as they are, not as we fancy they might be if we had things our way. Well! I’m afraid it’s come to this.” She squared her shoulders. “Come with me.”
Ian, sheepishly, followed, and she led him out back to a white-washed shed in the back garden. She paused at the door, then looked into his face. “I needn’t show it to you. You can see yourself what it is. But all I can do in the circumstances. It’s yours to room in, but in return I expect you to keep the yard tidy, as I haven’t kept a regular gardener and you would save having to hire anyone. I’ll also need you to stoke the furnace during the cold months, but you won’t be staying down there overnight, is that clear? I’ve had problems with a man drinking on that job, thinking I don’t know what’s going on down there. Will you agree to that? There’s a wood stove you can heat this with, and it’ll only need cleaning to work.”
He nodded, and a few minutes later, he was standing by the shed, trying to make sense of God’s leading, when a grumbling, old man caught sight of him and shook his fist in the air. “Turns old Clancy Owens out of his job, she does! Throws him in the street! Just like that! And for the likes of you, is it? Why, you ought to be ashamed, a furriner, coming in here and stealing a poor, old man’s bread and butter! After fourteen years being faithful and hard-working, nary missing a day except when feelin’ so poorly!”
The furnace-handyman added some other things as well, then grumbled his way out of sight on the path past the shed that led to adjoining yards. He came back up the path, leaning unsteadily on Ian. “One wee nip or two to keep me warm in the bones, and she turns me out! And this garden, would you expect it to look so grand as it is without me? I’m asking, would you?”
“I am very sorry, sir,” Ian said lamely, though to be truthful he couldn’t see that the lawn, flower beds, and overgrown garden had seen any attention for many a month. “I really didn’t mean to be taking your position”
Seeming to have spent most of anger, Owens wheeled about, shrugged, then tried the path again. “Sure, sure! Never you mind, my boy. Clancy’ll find something better down the road. She never paid me half my wages anyway. Close in her dealings, that beet-nosed old baggage! Too close! Watch out, or you’ll soon be following me down the same path!”
Ian, needing to take shelter from more rain, pushed open the shed door to take a look. It took some pushing, blocked by a pile of ancient newspapers and broken chairs and crates and water-ruined trunks.
Unable to take the sight, Ian sat down on the heap of trash, since he could find no better seat. His face in his hands, he prayed and prayed.
Suddenly coming awake, Ian snatched up the crumbling page of an 1879 issue, and read an account only the oldest of his church remembered from their youth and boyhood. This was the miracle-working revival that had founded the Pentecostal faith in his native town! This was the glory and splendor of the Holy Ghost, transforming thousands of rough, sin-wrecked lives all across Wales! The established churches, low and high, non-conformist and conforming, tried their best to stop it, but despite refusing to let their huge sanctuaries to be used as meeting houses for the crowds that gathered everywhere, the revival swept Wales. No one minded the rain or wind standing in the open for hour upon hour whenever they had the chance to hear the great revival preachers and take part in the miracle services.
He paused to reflect after reading article after article detailing the miracles and testimonies of individuals involved. No one ran the meetings, which went days at a time, meetings overflowing from buildings into the streets, if they had started there. Often magistrates and civic leaders opposed to the movement hurried to close down the meetings and ended up converts joining the crowd in worship. Some high church clergymen too were swept into the Holy Ghost fold. One Methodist minister from Abedare had suffered greatly when his wife had left him, telling him he was no good to God or else his parish would not have declined to a mere fifteen souls--and he had believed her and been shattered in his faith. Then he stumbled upon the meeting that changed his life, hearing that God wants to save the men and women who have been trampled and made to think they are worthless to God and will never be of use again.
The preacher had said there was such a man in the audience, and when the Methodist minister tearfully presented himself, saying, “I am that man you spoke of,” the audience erupted. Then the Holy Ghost fell upon the broken man, and he couldn’t prevent the manifestations, his body jerking out of his control, though he managed manfully to keep to his feet and not fall down. It was such a sight, to see a respectable man of the Cloth being made a spectacle for the glory of God, that the crowd cheered and surged forward to get some of the same miracle-working in their own lives. Truly, it was all the Holy Ghost’s sovereign doing from first to last.
How is it any different now? Ian wondered. The Great Revival came and went, just like the mighty winds, and no mortal man directed, just like no mortal man could possibly trace and direct the wind. It seemed to have died, but what had been so glorious could happen again, should the Holy Ghost choose to have mercy once more on Welsh hearts, he reasoned.
In digging among the papers for like articles, he disturbed a mouse, which scurried out of its nest, leaving Ian to look at old chicken feathers and a cache of seeds.
The thought of what he had done made Ian feel better--even if a mouse had been thrown out of his lodgings.
“If the Creator can take good care of this wee a creature, providing all the shelter and food necessary for its life--for it was fat one and not going about hungry--then how about this one Welshman?”
He stood and looked about the shed for the first time with interest. He could make something of it, he decided, with some cleaning up. The newspapers he could burn in the old stove in the corner, and the chairs and crates too would make a cozy fire for the cold days ahead.
Soon he had the material piled in a corner and room cleared for his bed, a rickety specimen of which he carried from the furnaceroom, recently vacated by the looks of the mattress, which was all bowed in the center from long usage, apparently. He beat the dust out, covered it with the cleanest of the papers, and took the blankets Mrs. Skittlethorpe allowed him and made up his bed.
With a rag he cleaned the window, then went to work on the stove, cleaning it and then inspecting the pipe first before he lit it. Again, a golden confirmation came to him, shown to him by his own hand as he glanced at the paper he was going to light and saw the verse from Luke he had so recently quoted to Mrs. Skittlethorpe printed in bold type.
Taking another paper to start the fire, as soon as it was going properly, he put the verse up on the wall with a nail.
“How much clearer could the Almighty make it?” he marveled. In anguish, he had cried out to God, darkness all around, while at the same moment God’s Promise lay at hand waiting for him to just pick it up! Out of all the papers he might have grabbed, it had to be this one with the verse that meant most to him in the circumstances. There was no denying the Finger of God, and as soon as he had the fire warming the shed he had to go and sit on his bed and pour out his thanks to God for his great provision and deliverance.
Yet he still hadn’t the full provision as long as he lacked a job. However wonderful the chain of confirmations that had just pierced through his cloud of hopelessness, the next day dawned as dreary as the one before, and he seemed back where he started.
Would he try the hiring halls again? Or the factories that demanded trades and unionmen? Or--”
He had no idea what to do anymore.
Again, his head sank into his hands, as he cried out to God to help him and show him the way. He had no money, and he had no food. What was he to do?
A knock startled him.
“Who is it?” he called out.
He went, hearing a voice but not able to make out what was said, and found a young boy looking up at him.
“Mum wants you to come,” the lad jabbered out. “She needs someone to do her painting.”
Painting? He wasn’t a fancy portrait painter. Someone had made a mistake.
But the boy waited, and so without protesting Ian followed the boy off down the path, and they soon arrived at a neighbor’s house by the back yard.
A young woman came to the kitchen door, let the boy in, then invited Ian to come into the main part of the house, where she stopped and gestured toward the walls. “They’re so awful, I can take that dark green and the cigar smoke in it not one day longer! You’ll paint them, won’t you? I heard from Mrs. Skittlethorpe at the market that you are desiring work. I’ll pay the regular rate, of course. And I have the paint ordered at Heskin’s Hardware and Sundries down the street. All you need do is get it. Well, when can you start?”
Relieved, he accepted immediately. He thought he could handle a brush if he didn’t have to make anyone’s likeness with it. This was the beginning. His name was passed from one household to the next, and he no sooner finished the first job then he was called to another. Although he took much care at first, he learned to do quicker work and improve what he did. His name was popular because he was so different from the established trade. No swearing, drinking, smoking, he was courteous and quiet and cheerful--the perfect young man to bring into respectable households. His workload increased so much in a short time that he hired young boys as helpers. For practice he had them paint his shed, inside and out, and it was transformed. He built a covered porch after asking Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s permission, and even offered to pay rent, but she refused, holding him to the original agreement. She even invited him to come back into the house, but he preferred his independence. Evenso, she had the shed wired so he could enjoy proper lighting when he wished to read the scriptures.
As for his Call, there was less progress than he had hoped. He was, by God’s mercy, providing for himself and even saving money, but the reality of his situation glared in his face. How was a painter working out of a garden shed going to acquire thousands of pounds to buy property and buildings for a Bible College? He couldn’t expect his students to come to his shed, where there was room for just himself and his painting tools. Without support of a Pentecostal church, there was no way he could manage it on his own resources.
Yet the verse he had nailed to the wall kept reminding him, it wasn’t his undertaking, it was to be Almighty God’s.
Mrs. Skittlethorpe, come to see about something she wanted him to plant in the garden, reminded him of something else.
“I’m inviting you to Sunday service at our church,” she said. “It’s not good for a young man to be idle like you on the Sabbath, even if you are praying and reading the Bible, as you say.”
“But--” he tried to explain, no other church would do for him. How could he say without really offending her there was just no life in the Methodist and Anglican churches and any other denominations he could name. Dead ritual, formality, the empty hymn singing without anything being practiced in daily life--it sickened him.
Mrs. Skittlethorpe had a way of divining his thought anyway. And she turned to him with a sharpness in her eye. “You’d do better to go to some church here, rather than keep on in your own way, Mr. Dahl! That primitive Pentecostalism of yours, you’ll find, is dividing holy Christendom, and setting you up above--”
Ian stared at her, holding his words back because they would do no good, only harm, even though they were the truth. People like her refused the Spirit, preferring the dead letter of religion, a religion they could manage with man’s strength and human reason, but the Holy Ghost? He was completely pushed out of the church’s operation! He had seen that dead, pale hand creeping in to services at his own church fellowship back in the mountains--how horrible it was! No, he would rather die than go her way, and die in his spirit right in the pew with the others!
The wind and rain chose that moment to pummel the shed as if a giant hand were shaking it. Together with the continuing cold, it hardly looked promising for gardens that year. Looking upset, Mrs. Skittlethorpe dropped the box of beet and spinach seed packets she wanted to see planted, and left.
After he looked for a break in the weather to do the hoeing and weeding, and there was none, he read scripture instead. That made him feel better, and still determined to keep to God’s way, however lonely and friendless it was in Swansea. Even if he was the only Pentecostal, he wasn’t going to give in to a slow death playing good religious folk with Mrs. Skittlethorpe and her sort. Oh, he had to thank her for his start in the painting trade, but God had used her as an instrument to open a door for him. It pained him to realize how bitter she regarded his Pentecostalism, but how could he change her mind. Something had crossed her in a religious way, no doubt wounding her, so that she would always resent it, unless she could find forgiveness in her heart. He prayed sincerely she might, but he also knew his landlady was not the sort you could safely approach on a sensitive heart issue.
Yet it happened in the days ahead that Mrs. Skittlethorpe found it impossible not to bring up the subject, whenever she saw him regarding some work in the garden or yard.
With her it always came to the point of Pentecostals being proud and thinking themselves somehow better than other Christians--that was the thorn in her flesh, he realized. Perhaps, a Pentecostal had come to her door with a salvation tractate, and lectured her too roughly on her need to repent and be born again in order to be saved from her filthy rags of human goodness. His father, having tramped through many a neighboring town in the early days of his conversion and Holy Ghost baptism, had learned from his mistakes, and cautioned Ian about needlessly offending members of the old “Established Churches.”
Finally, thinking what his father had said and how it was best to be truthful and open with such people while always being ready to beg their pardon, he dared to ask her why she thought Pentecostals were arrogant, hoping to get a chance to reconcile with her.
At first response, she looked at him as if he were an absolute dunce.
“Why!” she snorted. “You practice ‘speaking in tongues,’ do you not?”
He could not deny he did, but he was dumbfounded. What pride of his was involved in that?
She didn’t wait for him to defend himself. Her eyes shone with triumph. “You see, you can’t deny it! You’re all as proud as Puss, like you’re First Class, and we all in the established churches are dirty, wretched steerage! Well, I’ve had as much as I can take of insults for the day!”
Shaking his head, mortified, Ian watched her stomp off. What would his father have said to this? He had tried to wave an olive branch, but she had thrown it back in his face!
Months passed. Ian kept his shed at the Skittlethorpe residence, but the landlady saw Ian less and less, until he didn’t see her at all. She had her duties as usual, but seemed to avoid him, and he had transformed the yard and garden, so much so that she was always being complimented by neighbors and by fellow members at church.
Then, at a market she used, the greengrocer, who recognized him from coming in regularly to buy apples for lunches, asked him what he thought about her doing so poorly.
“What, is she ill?” he asked amazed.
The grocer patted his belly, nodding gravely as he glanced over at a picture of St. Michael’s, patron of grocers, for luck. “Consumption of the lower canal I hear--poor thing! Took Mr. Skittlethorpe, now her! What will happen to her four children! It’s a blame tragedy, I think. All that heavy, imported German sausage! None of our good English sausage fit for her, oh no! That’s what they were always ordering and eating--too rich, I say, for some folk’s alimentation. They best leave it alone. Now me, I’m a loyal Brit, even if I’m only half, coming from my dear, departed mother. I like my little kidney pie. But her--well, what could Almighty God be thinking of? She, a God-fearin’ lady without a fault except that she ate too much sausage than was good for her, attending church so regularly with her daughters--”
When Ian returned, a note in a sealed envelope was tacked to his door. “Pray for me, Ian--” read the personally written message.
And Ian prayed.
She sank fast. Ian saw doctors come and go, then neighbors and friends and the elders and minister of her church, it was a continual visiting, until finally news came that she wanted him to come, she had something to say to him he had to hear from her personally.
His heart in his hand, Ian went. He was shown by relatives to her parlor, where she lay in a bed carried in. It was impossible with so many people crowded around to have a personal word together, if that was what she wanted. He couldn’t even see occasion to pray, unless he prayed silently, and he was doing that, utilizing his heavenly tongue as unobtrusively as he could manage in such close quarters.
The thin form under the white bed clothes stirred, hearing he was in the room. He was told to go close to her, for she was very weak by this time.
Ian’s first look at her in many weeks made him think it was Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s maid and not the lady herself, she looked not so much pale and wasted as twenty years younger, no longer the hectic landlady with a thousand details of household management pressing on her every minute of the day. The maiden long hidden under the matron, after the burden of the years had been stripped away by a deadly disease, was at last revealed.
She was so changed he could not overcome his impression it was someone else, but her voice was Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s, as she spoke to him as one who had known him.
“You’ll stay in the shed out back, won’t you, as long as my children are here and you want it?” the stranger in the bed said in a voice so thin he had to bend to hear it. “The house will be managed by my brother, who is caring for my family with his wife, and they’ll be moving in soon, but I’ve told them to keep things as they are.”
Stunned as much by her young appearance as her words, Ian hardly knew what to say. “Thank you, Madam, for thinking of me.”
Ian felt a tug of his arm, but he saw she was trying to say something else.
He felt another tug, and partly rose.
“No, “ she said. “One other thing first. I saved a bit, and it’s going to you, to help you found that training school of prayer and fasting for the nation--”
Ian’s ears and face flamed. He hardly knew what else happened. Could he have heard what he thought she said?
She had one final thing to say, topping even this announcement. “God showed me some things these last months, lying in my bed, things I couldn’t see when I was well and has so many things in my care. You are going to save our country, Ian! God will use you mightily, just as He used St. Michael! I know, because I have seen what you and the people gathered in your college are going to be doing! Oh, I--I--”
The room seemed to explode around Ian and the dying woman. A doctor intervened, and Ian was soon out in the hall, asked to go and let her rest. In a daze of wonder and sheer amazement over God’s ways he stumbled outside, then found his way back to his little shed. Mrs. Skittlethorpe had written a bequest to establish the Bible College? She had been shown the future work of the College of Prayer and Fasting?
“Oh, my God!” he cried, sinking down when he got inside turned to his bed. He had known that God could turn and transform hearts, but what He had done in Mrs. Skittlethorpe was something, he knew then, he would marvel at all his remaining days on earth. And why not? He had known her, and for those who had not, it would always take explaining, and probably not convince them however much he tried to picture her and her hard-set way against Pentecostals. But now she herself had become proof that God does impossible things!
He tried to return to her bedside, but to no avail. She was so low, that the doctors forbade any further “excitation.” He wanted so badly to hear what she had seen in the Spirit concerning the Bible College. He was going to “save his country”? How? When? In what manner?
Finally, while he was praying and believing God for her total healing--a proof that God could heal that the city and the darkened religious community desperately needed, he thought--a loud knock startled him to his feet.
At the door a young-faced, gray-haired gentleman unknown to him, introduced himself as Thurgood F. Wallingford, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Neath.
“Mr. Dahl, I presume?” the visitor inquired, removing his hat.
Nodding, Ian was at a loss. He had prayed until he had felt a release--telling him God had answered his prayer--which mean to him that Mrs. Skittlethorpe had been removed, sovereignly, out of danger of death so that she would have a chance of being saved.
“Yes, “ he began. “What is the problem?”
The clergyman wouldn’t say in the open. “May I come in a moment, Mr. Dahl?”
“Yes, of course. Pardon me! You’re the first visitor I’ve ever had--an adult, I mean.”
Wondering very much what trouble had brought a total stranger to him, Ian gave him the only chair, and he himself sat on his bed.
The pastor got to the point quickly. “It is my sad duty to inform you Mrs. Skittlethorpe has suffered her last and is gone! She just passed on to her Savior. I don’t know how she heard of my church, but she had me called in, and told me everything, and I showed her from the scriptures how she might receive assurance of her sin’s absolute forgiveness and--”
Ian stared at the pastor, thinking he had heard wrong. He had been so sure a moment before that everything was all right, that she was going to recover by God’s miraculous intervention. After all, had interceded and received God’s reply that his prayer had been answered.
Overcome with uncertainty, Ian waited, and the man went on. “--she then said there was something to tell you, Mr. Dahl. She described how, a week before, she had died, really died. She had risen from her body, walked into a bright hall, and found her whole life spread around her in glowing pictures. She found it most amazing, but not pleasant, as she saw all her mistakes and hurtful remarks and many like things portrayed to her, and at the end she came to a tall figure in white. Though she had a distinct apprehension that she faced her God and Creator, she asked him who He was, and He said He was the Lord, come not as her Savior and Redeemer but as her Judge and Prosecutor.
Appalled at his words, which struck her to her knees, she then begged to be allowed to return to life, that she might rectify her ways, and the next thing she knew she was lying back in her bed, her eyes opening to people staring at her, listening to hear her breathe again!”
The pastor paused. “Well, I must be going. It’s a remarkable experience of the afterlife, though I have attended the bedsides of enough dying people in Neath and elsewhere to have heard several of this kind, and I must credit her with the truth, as she came through to Christ, asking forgiveness for all her sins, and I truly believed the Lord’s blood touch and cleansed her soul. I just don’t know why a good woman, godly in her manner of life, waited so long to make the most crucial transaction as to soul’s redemption and its eternal prospects. Perhaps, what she said about resenting certain people in the past who had approached her on certain points of religion--that may have put her off. Whatever it was, it is taken care of, washed in the Lord’s blood. Now may the departed rest in glory!”
The pastor rose, shook Ian’s hand, and went out, leaving Ian rejoicing.
A week later, after the body lay for several in the bedroom for relatives to pay their respects, the reading of the will in the home parlor followed the funeral service. Ian, her solicitor reading, heard the incredible amount this economizing virago had managed to accrue for the Kingdom of God--ten thousand pounds, no less! He was, if he did not spent it, a rich, young man!
No one said anything contrary at the reading, but the air chilled around him, and he left early, before the others. The amount went to court almost immediately. Relatives protested, ostensibly for the sake of the Skittlethorpe children. But the will had been drawn up by a well-known, highly-regarded man of jiurisprudence and the law, the Honorable Danobert T. Tremble, a retired judge and also long-standing elder and church board member at St. Michael’s. Unable to dissuade the Honorable Tremble from carrying out Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s wishes, the relatives settled for a lesser amount, half of the total bequest, for “compassionate consideration of the offspring.” To spare the family further litigation, the judge conferred first with Ian, and when Ian said he would not contest it, the amount due him was halved. The children were also left the property and house, with all income to be placed in trust that was not needed for maintenance and operation, and a monthly stipend of ten per cent of proceeds to the guardians, Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s brother and wife who had spear-headed the legal action against Ian.
Ian took the five thousand from Mrs. Skittlethorpe’s bank agent and bought the late Admiral Weemyss’s ramshackle estate overlooking Swansea called Winter’s Grace, a big house and garden that had known opulent days but had been neglected for thirty or forty years until it fell within his ability to purchase it. Having the skills, he soon was busy painting, gardening (though the continued run of very cold, wet springs hampered this improvement greatly), repairing gutters and windows. A thousand different things needing fixing and mending.
Though he was hard-put to find time for it all, he managed, particularly after he began holding services and young people, some from his own home town, began to come to join in the work. They were drawn by his notice of “A New Foundation in Christian Discipleship--Swansea Bible College, all Applicants, Male and Female, prayerfully considered, ” which he posted in the city and in neighboring towns and villages.
With his patron’s reservations about Pentecostals in mind, he determined not to make the gulf any wider than it need be, so he started the whole enterprise off on a strictly non-sectarian footing. The Christian faith and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading was his only requirement where religion was concerned, but when the applicants were informed they would be living by faith, meaning that they would not be working anywhere but on campus and would have to depend on whatever was sent in by unknown people in the daily post, most were scared off. A rumor got started that Ian’s was a radical socialist experiment in living communally, and the founder never tried to discourage it.
It was quite near the truth of his ideal, as he saw it in the Christian community portrayed in the Book of Acts, where the church was said to have held all things in common and no one lacked. Yet, with many applying and then running off, always one or two remained, and slowly the number of his enrollment grew until he had, after two years, almost ten in the College, an almost equal enrollment of young men and women.
Meanwhile, the Great Imperial Powers, Austro-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Britain, collided and went to war in 1914, sparked into conflict by the assassination of an archduke by Serbian nationalists. Ian and the young men, with the women going as nurses, entered the British army, for they were all of age and able to serve. Only half of the student body returned, most of them the nurses.
Ian, his left arm left partly disabled in fighting in France, was all the more determined to start again. Slowly, the College picked up steam until he had thirty dedicated students, not including an assistant Bible teacher and his wife. Praying and fasting, the modus operandi, was also sufficient to keep the student body purified in character and dedication.
Those who really had no heart or God’s leading to live and work this sacrificial way for revival and extension of righteous sooner or later found “better” things to do than live a life of self-denial. How often the needed funds came in the post just when there was nothing left to set on the table or no money to keep light and power from being shut off by the authorities?
How often the opposite had occurred, to tell the truth! Calling a school-wide fast to cover up the shortfall was out of the question--it wouldn’t witness in the spirit to all concerned. The lights and power had been shut off, and food had gone wanting at the table--embarrassing Ian’s leadership to the point of collapse. His student body, in one such trial, had risen up and assured him he had “grieved the Spirit,” becoming a spiritual despot, a leader turned bad. But then God vindicated him in the most wonderful, unmistakably divine way, and the full provision had arrived in a miraculous way!
With the school in total disarray, all seemingly lost, the picture turned from disaster to reconciliation in a moment! What floods of tears from repenting students! What changes of heart and life came out of the darkest rebellion! Confession followed confession, uncovering resentments and unforgiveness in their midst, including Ian’s.
His was the worst, and he knew it. What was his wrong-doing as administrator and shepherd of the little flock at Winter’s Grace? He declared he had begun to put the ministry of the College forward as something more important than God’s sovereignty in his heart, thereby making it an idol while keenly resenting those whom God placed under his charge who wouldn’t do the same.
Was anything more heinous than that? He didn’t think so. He humbled himself in this manner before the whole student body, and the college was convicted, purged, and cleansed of not only an unforgiving, grudge-bearing spirit but a subtle but an equally destructive religious idolatry Ian himself had introduced. .
Some other times, just as trying in a different way, made him seem an utter fool and impostor to himself. “I called for this to happen by Your Word,” he would cry to God in anguish, “and though I was only obeying Your direction, you made the opposite happen! Why?” Why? Perhaps, he was being taught the Prophet Jeremiah’s lesson of resignation and forebearance in the face of utter contradiction, earned by earnest obedience on his own part.
Jeremiah, after all, had complained that he had been made to look like a false prophet, after prophesying things God told him to prophesy, only to see God bring forth completely contrary events. God, it would appear, was not concerned with consistency as much as his prophets were concerned with reputations. If Nineveh was told by God’s prophet, “Forty days and be destroyed!”--then if Grace intervene and save the repenting city, why should the prophet blame God just because he was made to look foolish and false in his own eyes?
What with crisis after crisis in the College pantry (which the now established cold weather spring pattern did not help, curtailing the garden’s production by three quarters) , and other such things that worked for establishing a faith sunk like an iron chain into the solid Rock, the twenty six years between the Great War and the next world conflict would prove to be rocky, indeed.
Along with severe shortages in necessaries such as w.c. paper and wash soap, there were humorous moments to lighten the struggle as well. Somehow an aged Bella Coola tribeswoman living in Humptullips, Washington State, had gotten his address and sent money, enough to again pay the power bill for the month.
She wrote and addressed him as “Chief Ean Doll,” and if that wasn’t enough to make everyone smile who hadn’t smiled at Humptullips,” she had drawn in bright red on the envelope a crude star with a blazing, drawn-out tail.
The mail had arrived as usual a few minutes before Ian’s first class, so in the haste to get to class on time Ian only partially went through the mail before hurrying off. His shrapnel-riddled arm was giving him such pain he dropped the mail twice on the way. On gaining the classroom, he missed the letter when he looked for it.
After searching the chair where he had set his things he still found no trace. Students joined him, and looked under the chair, and even went out into the garden and took the time and trouble to retrace his steps to the mailbox down at the end of the lane leading to the house, and still no letter! Not a trace! This seemed uncanny. Ian was sure he had seen the letter, for he had held it a moment opened and observed the smeared writing, as if it had been rained on, or wept over, then posted.
Needing to get on with his class, despairing of finding the letter, it finally occurred to him to pray, and after prayer he leaned against the doorframe and heard a crackling sound, and felt back and there was the letter, stuck to him behind! Here he had been turning this way and that in growing distraction and impatience, even getting to the floor on his knees to look for the letter, and it had been stuck all the while to his back! With all the eyes present, yet no one had noticed it!
His lecture forgotten, feeling something in the Spirit was afloot, he examined the cause of all the confusion and trouble, then felt prompted to begin reading it to the wide-eyed class. The letter itself, with the check, was most interesting, telling him how the sender came to write and how the Lord had informed her that in some far distant time her tribe, the Bella Coola, would be saved from a certain, evil “Red Dog Star” and not die out in coming troubles like many others would. She was eighty years old, or maybe older, she wasn’t sure, but of these things she was sure.
And she praised God her glorious Deliverer and Provider, however long she had left, assured that all would be well for the Bella Coola. Her thank offering to God was $100, her entire government check, and she was sending it all to him though she’d be living on canned beans for a month, since the Lord had said to do it, and she would reap a blessing for her people in the future when they needed it most.
She even mentioned the angel that God would use against the wicked star--but Ian held back from reading that part back from the class he was teaching in “Amphibious Spiritual Landings and Holding of Beachheads,” thinking the woman’s tribal background was speaking more than was her Christianity. A blue butterfly? An evil red star?
Where did she get such ideas? His Bible, he knew, wouldn’t show any such thing. Besides, how could a mere butterfly save a tribe? He was certain she imagining things, though the gift itself testified completely with his own spirit, coming at the perfect time to answer the school’s needs for the day.
Letters from patrons of her sort were not uncommon. Indeed, the Spirit seemed to prefer to call on the poor, the outcast, the down-trodden to support His work. Why? Normally, those who had little gave whole-heartedly, and the Lord was pleased with their giving, whereas the rich gave large sums at times but it really cost them small. By the poor’s sacrificial gifts, the College’s existence was maintained, and it went forward. The College, indeed, was not for everyone. Ian, himself an original, could only gather originals to join and forward the work God had destined him to do.
The day after the letter from Humptullips letter arrived, Ian was peddling up to the entrance, his basket full of provisions they had needed desperately. Somehow the long motoring scarf had reached into a wheel and caught, and the next thing he was yanked and flew over the bars, crashing along with the tumbled groceries on the hard pavement of the entry. Slipping in the smashed eggs, a sausage come out of its newspaper wrapper and getting under one foot, so that he went down again, it was a terrible struggle. He finally got to his feet, thanking the Lord none of his bones seemed broken, when he grew aware of the visitor standing over him.
Ian’s eyes widened, as the visitor, the strangest fellow Ian had ever seen, looked at him in turn. Ian, trying to brush off some egg shell and yellow yolk from his sweater and coat and knees, then tried to reach out with his hand, only to see his hand was smeared with egg.
“Hello, my name is Ian Dahl, serving the Lord as director of the College, and you, sir, what may I do for you?”
The visitor gravely stared at Ian, and Ian waited, but nothing except this staring at him!
Brushing his clothes off, Ian examined his visitor more fully. “Won’t you come in with me? We can talk inside!”
As cheerfully as possible after such a horrid, undignified meeting, Ian, limping, led the way. He got to the door, then noticed that the visitor was not following, and--giving up the matter--went in.
A few minutes later the door opened, and the visitor let himself in.
Ian heard the bell at the door, and went out into the hall. He saw the man, and went forward again with a washed hand.
The visitor still would not take it. “Grandmother has sent me to take care of this place, and show you wisdom,” the man said slowly. “I am called Second Horse, and together we will pull the travois..”
Ian, his head whirling, could only blurt out, “What? Your grandmother? Travois? What is that?”
Then it dawned on him like a lightning bolt. He had to go sit down, but with his eyes glued on the Bella Coola Indian. “What did she say you were to do here?”
The Indian did not repeat himself, and he looked about as if Ian were not there, and then began walking.
Ian, praying for God’s leading in this most strange circumstance, followed. The Indian made a rather thorough tour of the inside, then went outdoors until he stopped by one of the outbuildings. It was a tool shed. “This will be my lodge and spirit house.”
The Indian went in, shut the door, and that was it. Shocked by the fellow’s summary confiscation of property not his own, Ian went up, attempted to knock, but he held his hand back for some reason, reluctant to break the terrific silence that seemed to cover this visitor like a thick cloak.
That was the inauspicious beginning of a long collaboration. Ian had been given, without asking, a co-administrator of the College, who also took charge of a class whenever he wished.